The Boat

Nam Le

“Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” is probably the best story in this book. Largely autobiographical, a writer in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop follows the drunken suggestion of a colleague to mine his father’s experience in Vietnam because “Ethnic literature’s hot.” His father conveniently arrives for a visit, and he feeds a new page into his Smith Corona (a friend claimed “he’d broken his writer’s block by switching to a typewriter”) and types “ETHNIC STORY.” The ensuing exchanges between him and his father are just brilliant. I love that this story also references other stories in the collection, which makes the whole book feel like part of that one story.

Le is into open-ended arcs, implying what happens next without showing the events that occur after the last words of the story. Sometimes not knowing the full outcome for sure feels frustrating but mostly it makes his worlds feel more genuinely vast.